Nebula (#3) Is Proud To Present



Sentimental Journey by Ken Stange


Sentimental Journey by Ken Stange

August 24, 1990. 
Time:  8:35.  Tripmeter reading:  0 kilometers.  Bike out of Orchard Grove 
Campground on Lundy's Lane.  My wife and daughter wave goodbye.  They 
will be driving back to our home in North Bay. 
The sun shines through a few wispy stratus clouds. (I mention this because 
weather matters.) 
My son, Christiaan, is twenty and has shoulder length hair that I think he is a 
bit too vain about.  I am forty-three, and my hair is rather long too, but only 
because I've been too busy to have it cut. 
Katherine Mansfield once told her diary:  "Whenever I prepare for a journey I 
prepare as though for death.  Should I never return all is in order."  I can't 
claim to adhere to such a policy, but I admire it.  But then I'm sure morticians 
can give haircuts when required. 
After coasting down Clifton Hill through early morning tourists and 
honeymooners who need no sleep, we stop for a final look at The Falls.  Our 
annual bike trips together began five years ago -- from this same origin, but 
with the less ambitious destination of Toronto.  This time we are going on to 
Montreal.  This time my son will be staying at our trip's destination. 

Niagara Falls is for us, and many others, Nostalgia City, so it is an 
appropriate place to begin our journey.  It is appropriate that the town is so 
kitschy.  It is appropriate that bikers (the other kind, the kind with motors) 
love this place, as do young turks in muscle cars with vulgar taste in music, 
as do lovers, as do families like ours who come here for a weekend every 
summer just because when they first came here the magic was in them.  With 
its cotton candy, wax museums, miniature golf courses, petty dope dealers, 
fast food outlets, arcades, manicured public gardens, 'people-mover' 
accordion buses, crowded campgrounds, waterslide parks -- this town is 
Ripley's and everybody else's "Believe It Or Not".  Like a popular love song 
or a twenty-year old's plans for the future, intelligence and taste are not the 
After performing the silly, but necessary, ritual of lovingly photographing our 
bikes, we begin to ascend the Niagara Parkway. Our bikes are laden with our 
sleeping bags, a tent, and panniers stuffed with clothes and traveling 
essentials.  My legs feel strong and the climb turns out to be easy.  A leather-
jacketed motorcyclist passes us, and I shout after him:  "Real men don't need 
motors."  He can't hear my little joke.  You can't hear anything on a 
There are two ways to relate to the world:  as a linear series of tasks and 
pleasures or as a complex puzzle.  Contrary to the principle of entropy, the 
passing of time inclines us toward the latter.  This trip is my respite from 
time.  I relish having all my concerns reduced to one:  reaching the day's 
destination.  So while Christiaan probably rides for the stimulation, I ride for 
the simplification. 
10:38.  29.6 klicks.  After lunch in Niagara On The Lake, we're on the road 
again.  Lately I have assumed the lead position on our bike tours.  On our 
first few trips I would ride behind, and farther out in the road, as if I could 
shield my son from passing cars with my own body.  A few years ago we 
reversed positions.  Without ever talking about it, we both know this is so 
that I can set the pace.  While my leading makes pedaling physically easier 
for Christiaan (since I break the wind resistance and he can do what cyclists 
call 'drafting'), psychologically it is much preferable to lead.  It is humiliating 
and exhausting to feel you're constantly struggling to keep up, and these days 
he would certainly ride far faster than I would find comfortable.  He is being 
as discreetly gentle with me as I once was with him.  Of course it is best on 
those roads with so little traffic we can ride side by side, and the pace just 
1:35.  62.1 klicks.  Restaurant at Prudhomme's Landing.  We stopped here on 
our first trip together, and since fluid intake is so important when you're 
cycling, our most vivid memory is of the large mason fruit jars of draft and 
coke we quaffed.  This time we order two 'jars' of draft.  The young waitress 
looks confused; they don't serve drinks in jars.  For a moment we are 
disoriented in time and find it hard to convince ourselves that it's been half a 
decade since we last rehydrated and refueled our bodies here.  The place feels 
the same, as though we'd been here just the other day, probably because the 
sensations of traveling through space mask one's memories of traveling 
through time -- which is no doubt why people use travel to heal the wounds 
of the past. 
5:28.  96.7 klicks.  Confederation Park outside Hamilton.  We select from the 
gatehouse map what we think is the same campsite we had five years ago.  It 
turns out to be two sites away from our original campsite.  After we've set up 
the tent and changed into fresh clothes, we ride into town, intending to eat at 
the same Mother's Pizza where we dined our first trip.  It isn't Mother's 
anymore.  It is Caesar's.  Actually, its isn't even Caesar's anymore:  an out of 
business notice is posted on the door. 
August 24, 1990. 
9:40.  107.7 klicks.  Another sunny day.  On to Toronto. 
Along the way, at one of our stops for orange juice, I notice a barbershop 
adjacent to the convenience store.  I want to duck in for a haircut, but 
Christiaan dissuades me. 
3:04.  177.3 klicks.  Toronto already.  The ride from Hamilton to Toronto 
was almost too easy:  a piece of that proverbial cake.  We stow our stuff at a 
friend's who has offered us shelter for the night, and my son and I head out 
for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  When I casually comment over my 
tostada that my friend is a helluva nice guy, Christiaan (a few beers in) 
remarks:  "You are too, Dad."  I start talking about the weather.  Weather 
August 26, 1990. 
7:15.  179.2 klicks.  Obvious, even this early, that the sun is going to scorch. 
We stop on our way out of town at Main Street and Kingston Road so I can 
show my son our last Toronto residence.  This is also the place where I'd had 
a nervous breakdown.  My wife was away in Chicago visiting her parents, 
and Christiaan, then only a year old, was with her.  It was 1971.  I don't 
know what caused me to ride over the edge.  I was seriously physically ill for 
the first and only time in my life;  I was using both prescription and non-
prescription drugs;  I was having a hard time making the bills;  I was a father 
when I still felt like a boy.  I remember standing on this street corner outside 
our apartment waiting to die.  That I was about to die was a given, but I 
really didn't want to die alone. 
I recovered fairly quickly, but the neurotic belief that I would die young 
haunted me for many years afterwards.  It wasn't death itself that frightened 
me; it was the fear that my son would not remember me.  My own father died 
when I was five.  At my  birthday party last year, a friend gave me a card that 
said: "Congratulations, at least you don't have to worry about dying young." 
11:12.  237.8 klicks.  Oshawa, and everything closed because it is an Ontario 
Sunday.  We eventually find a place that opens at noon, and the initially 
hostile proprietress takes pity on the two sweaty guys sitting patiently on her 
stoop and allows them into her air-conditioned den before opening time.  We 
share the effort of charming her. 
4:45.  289.7 klicks.  Port Hope.  Any port in a storm, and this Hope was 
springing eternal along the seemingly infinite stretch from Oshawa.  Our 
route was along the Lake Ontario shoreline and away from the main 
highway.  It was surprisingly hilly, and the oppressive heat gave me some 
understanding of an old Arab maxim I don't really agree with:  "Journeys are 
a fragment of hell." 
It was the heat that made this stretch cruel, not the hills.  People always ask 
about the hills.  I think most cyclists will agree that hills which don't 
completely sap your momentum before you peak them are better than flats.  I 
always say:  "What goes up must come down, so hills really don't matter that 
much."  What does matter is the angle -- the angle of descent,  not the angle 
of ascent.  You want a gentle angle down.  It lengthens the coast, the distance 
you travel without doing any work at all.  (I'm sorry if this sounds like an 
overly obvious metaphor for life.) 
Christiaan and I approach the hills differently:  he attacks them; I outlast 
them.  Even our bikes reflect this difference:  he rides a tight 12 speed Fuji 
racer;  I ride a Miyata touring bike with an extra small front sprocket 
(derisively called a Granny gear) that gives me 18 gears and better ratios for 
hill climbing.  His machine is made for attacking, mine for enduring. 
The trouble with attacks is that if they fail, you fail.  You'll get up that hill 
faster in a higher gear, but if your wind or legs or will give out, well then 
you're suddenly at a standstill from which there is no way up but (most 
ignobly) by pushing your bike. 
Christiaan is twenty and his attacks do not fail, so I encourage him to slip 
ahead of me when approaching any particularly mean hills.  I fear that 
climbing behind me must feel like waiting in a slow moving queue.  There is 
no need for him to lose his youthful momentum because of his father. 
I'm still stronger than he is, something he casually acknowledges, just as I 
casually acknowledge that I will never again beat him in a race.  Of course 
even this face-saving advantage will eventually be lost.  For now I just 
appreciate being handed the crescent wrench when his own efforts to loosen 
a stubborn nut fail.  It doesn't really matter that this balance is precarious and 
cannot last forever;  what makes any balance interesting is its potential 
6:15.  302.4 klicks.  Coburg campground. 
August 27, 1990. 
8:35.  303.9 klicks.  Again sun in perfectly clear skies. 
2:30.  369.4 klicks.  Carrying Place.  It is so hot the air is as palpable as 
water.  Before lunch I was exhausted and questioned the wisdom of riding all 
the way across Prince Edward County in the enervating heat.  But a little 
food and a lot of beverage have revitalized me.  Christiaan, anxious to press 
on, points out that once we start riding the heat won't matter that much. 
He's right, of course.  Once you get the rhythm going, you enter an altered 
state of consciousness.  It is not the state striven for in meditation, where the 
goal is calm.  As Pascal reflected, "our nature lies in movement; complete 
calm is death."  No, when riding long and hard, the sensation is not one of 
calm, but rather that of a dynamic balance with the universe, an active 
homeostasis.  In fact when you finally come to a stop, the lack of movement 
feels unnatural.  Suddenly you are sweaty, suddenly you feel the heat, the 
fatigue, the little aches in your muscles and joints -- and the pain in your ass. 
5:15.  414.1 klicks.  Royal Hotel, Picton.  This is a watering hole in the old 
style; they even serve draft in those small, honest beer glasses that've been 
replaced in most hotels by false bottomed mugs.  We 'four up' more than a 
few times while eavesdropping on a rag-tag party of elderly hotelers at the 
next table.  My son expresses admiration for these fellow patrons, for their 
joie de vivre, for their total lack of concern for appearances.  I don't express 
admiration, but I feel it, for his ability to appreciate this. 
Having had more beer than prudent, we leave the Royal for a campground 
supposedly only five klicks out of town.  We discover it is a day park only 
and are told that the nearest campground that might be open is across the bay 
in some place called Aldolphustown.  For some reason we find this more 
funny than distressing, even though it's already twilight.  Fortunately the ferry 
runs every fifteen minutes. 
After the crossing, we start a mad dash through the quickly thickening 
darkness.  For the first time during the trip there are bugs, thousands of them.  
Our helmets, even our faces, must look like car windshields in Muskoka, for 
the little buggers crash by the hundreds into us as we pedal along.  By now 
we are totally giddy and making absurd jokes about Adolph Villa and Adults 
8:20.  428.7 klicks.  Adolphustown campground. 
August 28, 1990. 
8:55.  429.2 klicks.  Still sunny.  Still hot. 
Because the road begins at the ferry dock, it is virtually free of traffic except 
for brief bursts every fifteen minutes.  We  stop at a park and skip stones and 
laugh about another time on another trip when we'd done this and a bitter, 
demented old man on a park bench had scolded us, saying we were raising 
the water level of the lake. 
11:40.  481.1 klicks.  Kingston.  We meet with a friend of mine, a poet, for 
lunch.  We talk about his new book and about his retirement home on a 
remote island off B.C.  For some reason the thought of him retiring frightens 
me.  I don't think of him as old. 
When we finally leave the restaurant, the world has changed.  The sky is dark 
and threatening. 
6:10.  530.0 klicks.  Ivy Lea Provincial Park.  We're too indecisive in 
selecting our campsite, and the storm hits just as we're setting up the tent.  
Somehow we manage to get our stuff stowed away without it getting too wet.  
Then the rain stops, but the sky turns a dissonant combination of mauve and 
red and cyan and black.  The attendant at the gate house has informed us that 
severe storm and tornado warnings are in effect.  Our campsite is on a point 
of land beside the St. Lawrence.  We eat cheese and crackers and watch the 
river go still, then churn up, then go still again within minutes.  The wind 
comes in gusts, punctuated by a spooky calm.  Sheet lightning flashes across 
from the far east of the horizon to the far west.  We joke about making a dash 
for the comfort station should things get serious, but I find myself seriously 
worrying, not about myself, but about him.  I wonder if my fear of death has 
not been so much overcome as displaced to fear for my children.  Eventually 
the show becomes less dramatic, and we call it a day. 
August 29, 1990. 
8:15.  534.4 klicks.  The sun playing hide and seek behind cumulous clouds.  
A bit of a headwind. 
11:45.  571.9 klicks.  An Italian restaurant in Brockville that has a sign on the 
door saying "We don't serve pizza."  We enjoy ordering beer, no food, from a 
surly waitress who obviously thinks we are not ideal patrons of her ristorante. 
5:05.  628.9 klicks.  Morrisburg.  At last.  All day my knee hurting.  The 
headwinds much stronger after leaving Brockville, and the road 
psychologically debilitating:  a ruler-straight highway that stretched from the 
horizon behind to the horizon ahead.  So:  very glad to be here. 
The town that is your day's destination often takes on mythic proportions 
once you begin to tire.  Just past the sign heralding Morrisburg city limits a 
fair sized shopping mall hulks at the side of the highway.  At its beer store 
the classic question:  "Where's downtown?"  receives the classic answer:  
"You're lookin' at it."  This is no lie.  I don't know why this disturbs me so 
much, but as later exploration confirms, Morrisburg really has no downtown, 
not even the remnants of one, yet it has some fine old homes and so is clearly 
not new on the map.  They must've bulldozed the old city centre to put up the 
mall.  Christiaan doesn't like malls, but he doesn't find this total, cruel 
replacement of the old by the new nearly as disturbing as I do. 
August 30, 1990. 
8:45.  648.6 klicks.  Sun in a clear sky, but it has cooled off considerably.  
The headwinds are gone.  My knee is better. 
9:28.  662.9 klicks.  Upper Canada Village.  We do the tourist thing, the high 
point of which is taking a horse-drawn wagon ride through this temporally 
dislocated place. 
12:05.  676.8 klicks.  Picnic lunch just beside a beautiful Parkway that runs 
through a chain of islands.  The day feels like silk. 
2:23.  705.7 klicks.  Cornwall.  After the parkway: a winding bike trail which 
we race along like kids coming home after the last class of the year.  The day 
feels like the screendoor summers of my youth.  The riding has been easy, the 
weather ideal, and the illusion of being outside of time perfect. 
5:13.  737.0 klicks.  Glengarry Campground.  After getting the tent up we go 
for a swim.  The water is cold so we carefully position ourselves to catch the 
late afternoon sun slanting through the trees. 
After dinner we build our first campfire of the trip, since this is, suddenly, 
our last night on the road.  I want to talk about how much this trip means to 
me, but somehow can't find the path into such a topic.  We are both tired.  
The fire goes to embers and our conversation becomes desultory.  We douse 
the fire and go to tent. 
August 31, 1990. 
7:45.  748.3 klicks.  Even cooler, but the sun still shines in an empty sky. 
8:30.  760.8 klicks.  Quebec border. 
And then the towns slip by faster and faster.  Soon we're on the island and 
the towns become suburbs.  Much earlier in the trip, when someone asked 
Christiaan why he was biking to Montreal, he said he "was just trying to get 
home."  If asked now, this answer wouldn't seem funny. 
2:35.  849.9 klicks.  A sidewalk cafe in Old Montreal.  We're having what 
will be our last conversation of the trip.  Christiaan tells me about how 
important this next year is to him.  I want to tell him how important his next 
year is to me but don't -- because his father's desires should no longer have 
anything to do with what he does. 
I notice as we talk how gentle we are with each other.  The last few years our 
relationship has become almost too cautious and considerate.  I know this is a 
sign of profound caring coupled with less than perfect intimacy.  It is the 
remainder from a division of father and son that happened in his mid-
adolescence.  Our particular conflict was not unusual, centering on his 
tendency to be too much like I was at the same age. 
Such straining of the parental bond probably happens to virtually every father 
and son during The Adolescent Period.  I wonder, though, if it is the son's 
adolescence or the father's middle age that does it.  Why is the son assumed 
to be the cause?  The changes are just as traumatic and dramatic for the 
father.  These conflicts are always explained in terms of youth's 
rebelliousness (probably because Dad is doing the explaining), but middle-
age's recalcitrance is an equally good explanation.  My son was not really 
very rebellious at all, and our conflict very mild by comparison to most.  
When I think about it now it seems silly -- but necessary.  Like writing about 
this trip. 
4:05.  858.2 klicks.  Arrive at my son's apartment, his new home.  I take a 
picture of him outside the apartment, standing by our bikes, looking strong 
and brown and handsome.  I am sure it will come out nice because the sun is 
bright and at my back.  Weather matters.  The sun matters.  Our sons matter. 

Brushing the hair from my eyes, I ask him if there is a barber shop in his new 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Stange's most recent book of poetry is Advice To Travellers (Penumbra Press, 1994). Even more recent is his A Smoother Pebble, A Prettier Shell  (Penumbra Press, 1996) a book of his computer art. The original images are available for viewing at Stange's Gallery.

Since he edits this netzine, he rather reluctantly includes his own work in this issue. However, since the first issue's feature was fiction, the second issue's feature poetry, an essay seemed appropriate for the third issue -- and this piece, written several years (and bike tours) ago, was given some external editorial validation when it was short-listed for the CBC Literary Contest, but it has never been submitted for publication.

Since this was written the author has completed a book-length, quasi-philosophical chronicle of a subsequent bike trip he and his son did from New Orleans back up to Canada; his son has graduated university, published poetry himself, travelled (alas, without a bike) in the south of Turkey and, like his father,  never quite got around to getting his hair cut.